Fox News Channel and CNBC were crowing last week about
their recent ratings wins against top-dog rival Cable News Network, which is still trying
to create appointment viewing to buffer itself against slow news periods.
In the case of FNC, it achieved its highest ratings ever
for a single telecast with its Dec. 2 GOP presidential candidates' debate.From 8
p.m. to 9:30 p.m., FNC averaged a 2.6 rating, delivering 1.2 million households.
That same night, for the first time ever, FNC beat CNN in
ratings and households in primetime, averaging a 1.9 rating, or 853,000 households, versus
CNN's 0.6 rating, or 502,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied
"The debate was a great success for us," FNC vice
president of news editorial John Moody said.
In contrast, CNN's telecast last Monday, Dec. 6, of a
Phoenix debate between the GOP candidates, The Arizona Republican Primary Debate,
drew a 2.2 rating, less than FNC's debate. But the CNN debate drew more households: 1.7
Like FNC, CNBC also claimed bragging rights over CNN last
week, boasting that it had beaten CNN during the "business day," 5 a.m. to 7:30
p.m. weekdays, in November. CNBC maintained, too, that its Business Center is
gaining ground on a post-Lou Dobbs Moneyline News Hour, beating it in household
numbers for two weeks in November.
CNN, in turn, defended its ratings performance this year
and pointed out that Moneyline has been soundly trouncing Business Center --
by 33 percent in ratings and 39 percent in delivery -- since its new team of Willow Bay
and Stuart Varney took over Dobbs' desk July 19.
According to its competitors at FNC and CNBC, CNN's recent
ratings performance in the November sweep and third quarter indicated that its avowed
programming strategy under new president Rick Kaplan -- trying to create appointment
programs that viewers will tune to steadily -- hasn't worked.
In fairness to CNN, all of the 24-hour news channels had a
tough November sweep period, seeing double-digit drops in their ratings. But CNN took the
biggest hit, seeing a 50 percent decline in its total-day ratings from a year ago, to a
0.3, and a 45 percent slide in its primetime numbers to a 0.6.
A CNN spokeswoman explained the drop by saying that this
November was a particularly slow news period compared with last November, when the United
States first bombed Iraq and Kenneth Starr was testifying on Capitol Hill.
But CNN was also down in primetime in the third quarter,
off 33 percent to a 0.8 versus a 1.2 a year ago.
CNN's November ratings slide just illustrates that Kaplan
still hasn't achieved his mandate yet, which is to draw audience to the network when big
news isn't breaking, Moody and CNBC senior vice president of business news Bruno Cohen
Kaplan was recruited to CNN in August 1997 in large part to
create appointment shows for CNN's program lineup. "They just haven't developed those
appointments yet," Cohen said. "They continue to be dependent on breaking
In response, the CNN spokeswoman said the network had
success with appointment viewing such as the "Town Hall" meetings Kaplan created
and the improved ratings of the primetime NewsStand and The World Today since
their September revamping.
She also noted that this year, through November, CNN's
total-day ratings are flat at a 0.5, which she said proves that the network is managing to
hold its own during a slow news period.
"The fact that our ratings this year are equal to
those of last year -- which was unarguably a much more active breaking-news year with
[President] Clinton-[Monica] Lewinsky -- shows that we are making headway," she said.
CNBC was touting its own November performance during what
it calls "the business-day" hours, 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., when it delivered a 0.5
rating, or 323,000 homes, compared with CNN's 0.4 rating, or 289,000 homes.
But the CNN spokeswoman said CNBC's demarcation of
"the business day" was "a completely arbitrary and artificial
construct" that has no relevance for a 24-hour news channel.
CNBC also claimed that its Business Center, with
anchors Ron Insana and Sue Herrera, is continuing to build audience, while CNN's Moneyline,which lost Dobbs in June, is declining in households. Both shows averaged a 0.3 rating
But Business Center'shomes were up 11
percent from a year ago, to 238,000 from 215,000, while Moneyline was down 26
percent, to 258,000 from 347,000. And for the weeks of Nov. 8 and Nov. 22, Business
Center beat Moneyline in actual households, although they tied with a 0.3